How can we support youth in having healthy relationships? What is it like to go into classrooms and talk about relationships with students? What even IS violence prevention work?
Join us for a conversation with the Primary Prevention team at Women In Distress to learn about the work they do in schools and in the community to promote healthy relationships and change our world for the better!
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (#WearOrange), and with our theme this year of "Be Kind To Your Mind" we're highlighting the importance of youth mental health, including healthy relationships with themselves and others!
More info about what Women In Distress is doing for TDVAM here.
More info about LoveIsRespect, a great national resource for TDV prevention and healthy relationships education!
ABOUT THE PODCAST
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This show, brought to you by the Education & Prevention team at Women In Distress in Broward County, FL is building awareness to end domestic violence. Each episode, we’ll be breaking down different aspects of the work – we’ll talk to survivors, advocates, community members, and others to explore the things that are happening right now and the work that still needs to be done.
ABOUT WOMEN IN DISTRESS
Women In Distress is the only state-certified, nationally accredited domestic violence center serving Broward County, Florida. Our mission is "To stop domestic abuse for everyone through intervention, education, and advocacy." https://www.womenindistress.org/
Emily (Host, Women In Distress) 0:05
Welcome back to the podcast! It's February, and in addition to this shortest month of the year playing host to Black History Month, Valentine's Day, President's Day, Groundhog Day... (I'm sure there's a bunch else. Y'all, please don't write me letters if I missed any!), February is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, with the awareness color, orange.
Now, teen dating violence is just as serious as abuse that happens in adult relationships, and is actually even more pervasive than a lot of us think, which is part of the problem. As adults, we often don't realize, or even just forget, how much young people go through. And not just with relationships, but mental health, and all sorts of ways that they're growing into themselves. Which is why, we actually decided this year for TDVAM, to highlight not just relationship health, but also youth mental health and resiliency in general, with our theme "Be Kind To Your Mind." (Which, we hope we can all do better at, all year long.)
Emily (continued) 1:04
So this month, and always, we want to be talking about healthy relationships, boundaries, red flags, consent, respect, and realistic relationship expectations, so we can create a safer world for ourselves and for the next generation, and do the work to prevent violence which, of course is what this show is all about!
So find something orange and dive in with us as we talk with the prevention team about the work they're doing in the community and how we can all get involved to prevent dating violence. Stay tuned!
Emily (continued) 1:51
So, for this episode of "An Ounce of Prevention" podcast, I'm really excited because I got to sit down with my own colleagues in the Education & Prevention team at Women In Distress. And, let me just say that they, and the work that they do, and the passion that they have, the thoughtfulness, are just all so amazing. So, let's meet them and listen in.
Joan (Guest, Women In Distress) 2:13
Alright, so...start here!
Hello! My name is Joan Dominguez.
Nailin (Guest, Women In Distress) 2:18
Hello, I am Nailin.
Danielle (Guest, Women In Distress) 2:20
I'm Danielle, and I'm the Teen Dating Violence Specialist. So I primarily work with high school students, facilitating teen dating violence curriculums.
And I mainly work facilitating our prevention program with middle schoolers, and we also do one-time presentations around the community.
What we try to do is, we try to create long-term change by facilitating an 8-session long program. We also try to foster the development of healthy habits and healthy behaviors within friendships and relationships. Because, although it is extremely important to understand, recognize, and identify unhealthy and abusive behaviors, it is just as important to practice healthy behaviors everyday.
We all are working together - not only us giving the students information, but providing just a safe space and environment for them to ask questions, and interact with each other, so that they can really think about what a healthy relationship looks like for them, and how to actively create their own safe future.
For me, what I always make sure that I let them know first and foremost before we start anything is that if they are experiencing something, that it's being validated in this moment right now. Because I feel like a lot of times, when they have interactions with certain adults or just sharing what they're experiencing, those experiences are often invalidated. Just like "Oh, that's not even a big deal. That's not something you should be worrying about." So that, starting there, is like, "Hey, if you have an experience, you know someone..." I want to stand here and validate. I'm acknowledging that this is something serious that is happening with teens, that if affects their daily lives, right? They have to deal with school, all these things - sports, extracurriculars.
And so, I think starting there can often times, help them to feel comfortable and disarm them in a way. Because imagine, coming into a classroom like "Ok, who is this adult person, trying to talk to me. You're not my teacher, I don't know you." So, first kind of building that space. Once a child feels as though their voice is heard, then they can have that mindset to say, "Ok, I was able to speak about this. I was able to share this." "Maybe I used to do 'x, y and z,' but I was able to talk about it with someone, and now I understand that that's maybe not the best thing for me to do."
So I think that's where it really starts for me. You're validated, you're voice is heard, and I want you to share and I want you to lead, and not have me just come in and say, "don't do this...do this!" Or "Hey, do this - don't do that." It's just like, "Ok, but why, you know? Can you show me a better way instead of just giving me all these do's and don'ts?"
I totally agree. I think it's so important to kind of create, I always say, a judgment free zone. And when we say that, we're not only establishing that in the classroom, but we're also letting them know that we're a part of that judgment free zone. That we're coming from that open perspective to, as you said, validating. Especially because, me working with middle school, they're so young. It might be their first crush, their first relationship. And a lot of times, that's the biggest deal in their lives. And, when we grow up, we have...we go through so many other life experiences we forget how much of a big deal those relationships were to us when we were younger.
I think it's really important to come at it from a safe vs. unsafe perspective, rather than, as you said, it's not that "this is good, this is bad", "you should do this, you should not do this." It's more so, "what does this look like for you? What does safety feel like for you? What does feeling fear or feeling unsafe - how does that feel like for you?" Letting them realize that they have that power within themselves, within their own relationships, to determine what is that safety vs. that unsafe feeling. And we're just there to guide them through it, but they're the ones who are leading their own journey.
And what kind of spaces are you all doing this work in? Where are you all showing up in the community doing this?
It can be in high schools, middle schools, diversion groups. Right? Understanding that hey, those groups might be dealing with a lot of other things, but healthy relationships are still very important to discuss there. And really any space that we are welcomed into where we're honestly trusted as well. Because whoever we are reaching out to, whether it be a teacher, site coordinator, community member - they're trusting us to come in and talk to their youth. So whoever is open and willing and also finds the importance in having these conversations... I'm always, I'm up for it!
And what do you all feel like - what is like the biggest, if you kind of had to give an elevator pitch around it - what...what is the thing that you want the youth to leave with when, after you're done working with them? Whether it's one of those multi-session programs, like B.O.L.D. or Imagine, or it's the one times - what...what do you hope, what is the impact you hope you're leaving on them?
And I'm, like, hesitating because it's such a good question and it's so much to think about.
It's hard to put it into words, you know? Because when I go into a classroom, I just want them to understand that I care. And there are adults that care. And, I want them to share with me, I want them to know that their voices are heard. And we care about those interactions because, like I said earlier, some students will share. If we say, "Hey, you know, talk to your trusted adult" and they'll be like, "well I did that but they didn't listen." Or "hey, I did that but they didn't really do anything."
And that always breaks my heart! It's hard to put into words, to say the least. It's, just, knowing that whatever they're going through, that it matters to us, and it should matter to them, too!
I totally agree. I think a lot of times, too, like they...they might feel that there's no one that cares. And so I love that you bring that up, and, I know, I totally agree that it's hard to put it into words. Because I think you go - every, every classroom is so different, every student is so unique. And the way that we provide this information is so specific to the types of environments that we go into. And it changes everyday, every classroom, every student. It changes every time.
And so, I think you hope that in every single session, they get whatever they specifically need from it. And, as I've been doing these more and more, and presenting these prevention curriculums, I've been kind of emphasizing more so that their most important relationship is the relationship they have with themselves. Prioritizing that relationship with yourself is the first step to creating healthy relationships around you. And that's why I keep saying it's so unique with every student because they will all feel that sense of relationship with themselves in their own unique way. And they all have that ability to go towards that safer future and hopefully prevent those unsafe relationships overall.
Nailin, I know you're new to this work, so you're coming at it with really fresh eyes and fresh sort of energy. I'm wondering, like, for you with just shadowing and kind of first getting into these environments and seeing this work in action, what are you thinking about it? Where are you standing with how you're seeing prevention work happening with dating violence?
Yeah! Well, I have have seen different kinds of classrooms and interactions and dynamics. And I actually was thinking about what my answer would be to what I hope the kids would take - or whoever comes to these presentations would take - and I think it ties in perfectly to how I see the prevention work that we do. Because my hopes are that whoever comes to our presentations, or whoever is there when we are facilitating this information, takes away awareness of all of these different things.
Because in my experience, I have learned that there's a lot of individuals out there who don't necessarily know that there's different options. A lot of times, they don't even have the language to label a lot of the things that are happening to them. And I think that that's part of what we do. We are out there, showing people that "this is what this is called, and it is not ok." Or "this is what you should be expecting from a healthy relationship."
Absolutely. And so, and I kind of want to get your all's take (I think I might know what your answer may be to this), but is violence actually preventable? And I'm not going to get mad at you if you say no. Do you, in your heart of hearts, believe that one day, there will, violence will be prevented, that violence is actually preventable, that it's an achievable goal?
I'm always waiting for like...
Is this a test?!
Nailin (continued) 12:47
Yes, 100%. I think that that's part of our, my hopeful evolution of human beings, and my hopes of the work that we're all doing. You know, really getting as much information and education out there to again, show people that there's different ways.
It is a learned behavior, as we know. And we are teaching the youth and we're also out there kind of, like, telling people that are already in those situations that there's other ways.
Absolutely. I agree with Nailin. And we always hear the phrase, "when you know better, you do better," right? And it's true.
And so, relationships are gonna happen, especially with the youth (as much as sometimes people feel as though, "Oh no, they're not even thinking about these things right now.") Relationships are a huge part of our lives - all of our lives, really. But especially like Joan said earlier, this is like something that they're exploring, you know, for the first time. And I think when we come in these classrooms, or we just have these conversations in that stage, in that stage of learning, it can really help make better decisions. We're not giving them just the "do's and don'ts". We're empowering them to make better decisions.
So when we talk about dating violence, when we talk about communication, when we talk about just, all of those in general, I think it just gives them the opportunity to actually stop to think and say, "Actually, you know what? Maybe there is a better way to do this."
And so absolutely I agree - violence is preventable, in a lot of different arenas as well, but I'll keep the focus... cause y'all know I can go on! But yeah, so I definitely agree.
Yeah, I believe my official statement would be: yes, violence is absolutely preventable. It's gonna take a ton of work to get there. It's gonna take a ton more people than just us to get there. It's gonna have to be a huge effort not only with individuals, but with people in the community, with society as a whole.
And when we talk about violence being preventable, a lot of times, people say, like, "hindsight is 20-20". And when you speak to individuals who have been through some sort of either unhealthy relationship or abusive relationship, you... a lot of times you commonly hear, "well, if I would have known this, I could have stopped it; if my parents would have talked to me about relationships; if my teachers would have taught me this, then I wouldn't have done this." When we hear those things, a lot of times it's thinking back to the things we wish we knew, things we wish we did. And so what we are trying to do is to turn that "I wish" into "I can."
So not only is it about increasing awareness and knowledge and providing the tools and resources necessary to prevent this, but also to put those things into practice, hoping that the conversations that we spark between students - that they take them home and they start talking about that with their family. Then those family members can start talking with their neighbors about that. Then the neighbors can start talking to other community people about that. And hopefully, it just becomes this chain reaction where we are all together, working towards preventing that violence from happening again.
And as I said, it's gonna take a lot of effort. It's gonna take a lot people, but if we just continue doing the work that we're doing, and we continue improving, that's going to - it's going to have a lasting effect. And that lasting effect, I believe, will eventually lead us to that violence-free world that we all deserve.
Alright, you all passed the test. Very good.
Just kidding.... but, no I think you all hit on a lot of good points. It's easy to talk about that belief. I think it's harder to carry sometimes, and even just to, like, instill that belief in others. So, so thank you for sharing your thoughts on that because I think that will help folks out there understand that a little bit more for themselves, and where they fit into that.
And that's kind of my next question, too, is like: for folks for where it isn't their full time job, right? Who aren't as lucky as us, that don't get to do this sort of prevention work for a living with each other - what can people do in the community to contribute towards that violence-free future? What...how can they get involved in that?
Be open to conversations. I think that a lot of people tend to walk away, or get intimidated, or think of some of these topics as, like, taboo or things that they just happen but we don't talk about. And I think that that's how everybody can help make a change, is being open to having these conversations, to being uncomfortable, to learning, you know? And just being open to learning more about these topics. And also, open to kind of, thinking about themselves and their behavior, and what kinds of things they can work on and change in themselves to help the movement in any way they can. Because I think we can all benefit from growing, changing, and just, like, self-reflecting when it comes to aligning ourselves with change.
So, the next question is sort of changing gears a little bit. Can you share a story, that's pretty illustrative, or something that sticks with you about this work? Something that's happened in the process of doing this work in our community where it's just been memorable for you and you've really felt that impact, or even just a good piece of what's happened.
There's so many stories, to be honest. But what I think about the most, or I think the ones that kind of gives that full circle moment, is the amount of times that I go to a school - because this has happened a few times. The amount of times I go to a school and the teacher that I'm working with says, "Oh, I love Women In Distress. They helped me in my situation." And I think that connects with what Joan was saying on, on continuing that conversation because it's like, we have a survivor here, or a person that has worked with us in some way, shape, or form. And they're continuing that to say, "Hey, I need you to come in and talk to my students." Or even just opening up the space for them to share with their students on, "Hey, you know what? This happened to me as well."
I remember I was even leaving a school, going to my car, you know, and I have my lanyard on and all of that - all the things! And a security guard, she's directing traffic, so I'm just kind of standing there. And she's like, "Give me a sec," and so - and she just looks at me, she's like "You're from Women In Distress?" "Yeah, I'm doing a, a program here, with some students, peer counseling." And she's like, "Oh yeah, me and my daughter, we went there, too!" And it's just like, again, seeing that full circle moment.
This affects so many people that we might not even realize. And just us being out in the community, and just being there to talk to people, and again, for them to share their story - I think that's what sticks with me a lot of the times.
It's like the stories can go on for days, to be honest, but it's usually those - those stories I hear from either the teachers, or just the representatives that welcome us into their classrooms, their spaces, that they share their story. And the ones where you hear it directly from the youth that we work with. And how certain views have changed, or how it's helped them. Those always stick with me.
Because sometimes, you know, you can feel a little overwhelmed. Sometimes, you can just be like, "Man, this was a difficult day!" You know? And, you know, we're human and we feel that. And so, thinking back to those, or coming across those stories kind of reignite that, that fire and that passion to say: ok, people are listening. It reaches at least someone, at least one person, or at least a few.
I was actually thinking about just yesterday, I was in class (like in my school, my personal classroom.) And we were, just like, having a discussion about some of the concepts that we were learning, and the discussion ended up in one of the students bringing up an example of domestic violence. And she was talking about how, you know, "what do you do if, you know, you all of the sudden find out that your client is being, like, severely physically abused by their partner?" And the professor was trying to kind of explain this, explain to her like what to do. And then, at the end of the discussion, it felt like - I kind of raised my hand and I was like, "Well, and also there's always, like, local domestic violence centers where they can go to and obtain services. And if they really are in a situation where, you know, they are being physically abused, or emotionally abused, or mentally abused, financially abused - they will find all of these different services, all of these people that can really lend them a hand, help them safety plan. To be there for them, not just to walk out of the relationship but to support them if they decide to stay in the relationship, or if they feel like, you know, it's not the right time for them."
And it just felt so cool to have that moment in which, I was like, "Oh! This is the work that we do!", you know? There's us, out there, that are, like, helping all of these wonderful survivors that are, you know, in need of, of that support that is so hard to find a lot of times when they're going through abusive relationships.
In that moment, I really saw us through like a, an outsider perspective. And that was, like, super duper cool.
Yeah, I feel like once you start seeing it, and, like, once you become an advocate and you do this work, like, you can't really stop seeing it. And even like you were saying Danielle, like, you're not really teaching anymore, you're going to your car, and you're ready for your work day to be done, and still, like, you know, you're that visible person in the community. Which is cool that there's like, that we can be that in there, but it's also - it's a lot, too.
Yeah, I'd say for me specifically, just like Danielle, there are so many stories. There is a plethora of stories that just kind of stick with you. But for me, I would just say in general, it's when the students that I'm talking to go out of their way to come up to me after class and share their situation with me. And the amount of students, the amount of youth - and we're talking, like 10 to 13, maybe 14 year olds - who have undergone very, very unhealthy relationships. That have, they have endured mental and emotional abuse in a level that is unimaginable. And the fact that they are willing to share that with me, and the fact that they are so young and have already overcome that, I think is so impactful.
Because a lot of times, as we kind of mentioned before, it's so easy to minimize the experiences of individuals because they're younger, because they're still in school, because they haven't gone through life in the same way that we have. And the fact they not only have the strength and courage, but the trust, to share their stories with me. And just realizing that it is actively happening and that it is more common than we realize is really, really impactful. And it kind of takes you back a little bit, and makes you - sometimes, it makes you kind of question, like "How far are they reaching? Are they actually being effective?" That really kind of gets thrown away when those same students, or students in those classrooms will reach back out to me at the end of the entire program, whether it's personally or through their post-assessments, and they usually say, like, "I have found the courage to leave this abusive person." Like, "I finally understand that what is happening to me, what has been done to me is not ok, and I was able to get the help I needed. I was able to remove myself from that situation."
And it's just so inspiring to see so much strength in individuals who are still so young, and have such a long way to go. And see that, at least we are able to play a part in providing that strength, providing that courage, to - and providing the knowledge for them to realize that what they're going through, no one deserves to go through. And that they are able to find that help that they need, whether it's through me providing resources, or through their trusted friends, or their trusted adults in their life.
We, you know, can't just say one specific story, but the fact that there are so many stories is enough in itself.
Yeah, and I remember, like, when I was out in schools - and even now, like, teaching you know, doing more professionals trainings, - like the same kind of impact. And I think, like, something too on the other side of that coin is, like, even when you get the kids or adults who say, like, "I recognize that what I was doing wasn't ok." Or like, you know, you see that change in them, which I feel like, that's even, like more incredible sometimes (not that you can compare it), but just, you know, that's a lot of where prevention happens, too - is just like helping folks manage their own behaviors better, too, and hold themselves accountable, and realize that maybe the expectations they held were unrealistic in some way, or that they were being influenced that way, so...
Thank you all for that, and for the work that you do!
I want to kind of close out with a bit of a sillier question. This is something that we had asked staff a few TDVAMs ago, but I think the question never really gets old because maybe our answers change. So, I want to know for you all, what advice you would give your teen self, if you could.
Emily (continued) 29:13
For you listeners out there, there's a lot of thinking happening right now. We're taking this question very seriously!
I think - and I'm still learning this til this day... And I am not going to get emotional on this podcast! I will not have it-
It wouldn't be a recording if, if you didn't!
I will not have it, not at all! Oh my gosh - get it together, girl! Emotions are ok.
I think I would tell my younger self that you don't have to stay in situations where you know you're being mistreated, for the sake of being in that situation. Or even, in better words, you don't have to put other people's emotions and consider them before yourself. It's ok to say "no." It's ok to say, "I don't like that." It's ok to say, "that's not for me."
And I would tell her - as I tell the other students in all the areas and spaces that we go into - is your people will find you. Meaning, the people that are meant to be around you - once you're just fully being yourself, and you're comfortable with yourself, they will gravitate towards you. You don't have to accept less than for the sake of just wanting to be a part of something, or wanting to be accepted. You have the ability to remove yourself from certain situations and know that it's gonna to be ok and your people will find you. So... all of that.
I would say...I would say that, even though it's hard, and it will continue to be hard, and it is something that you have to put into practice every single hour of every single day: prioritize yourself. And don't feel the need to change who you are for people who don't accept the best parts of you and the worst parts of you. Yeah.
I would tell my teen self that she is powerful. And to stay brave. And to not be afraid to speak up and ask questions because her ideas and her thoughts are worthy.
Ugh, I feel like we could just make inspirational posters out of all of the things that y'all said.
Emily...what would you say to your teen self?
Oh gosh...I forgot that I'm also part of this recording!
That is a tough question. I think I would kind of, like, same lines as you all - just trust yourself that things will... sort of like Danielle said that people will find you, you will find your space. I think - and maybe a lot of young people feel this way - like you're trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in. But maybe the idea isn't, like, fitting in - it's just being?
Brené Brown talks a lot about, like, belonging vs. fitting in. And I remember really resonating with that because I think that, like, you can't make yourself smaller or different to fit in somewhere else. Eventually, you'll find a place where you belong. You just gotta like, settle there.
So I think it would just be trust your gut. Trust the process, even though that's maybe a bit cliché at this point? I think trust the process.
I love the belonging part of that. Because I think like, when we think about that, right? We...you belong to yourself. And I think a lot of times, as we're growing up, we question that, right? And we question - especially in relationships - who our hearts belong to. And if our hearts belong to someone else, then they can take advantage of that, right? If they feel that sense of entitlement to our heart, to who we are, then that's what can lead into those unsafe, abusive situations.
So I love the idea of belonging. And, sorry, it just popped into my head! The statement, like, "you belong to yourself" just came into my mind because I think it, it strikes so deeply with, kind of everything that was just said, especially as you're growing up. Yeah.
Yeah, no I'm hearing from, from all of those responses like very much a sense of, like, that - I don't even want to reiterate it because y'all said it so well. But I love that there's sort of a continuity between everything that y'all said, which is really cool.
Is there anything else that you want folks to know about prevention, give them a window into what we're doing, or anything you want to leave them with?
Prevention is possible!
I would say, if you, you know, have a thought of someone or just something - let's say specifically like a person, you're just randomly thinking of them, check-in on them! Because you never know what that check-in can kind of do in that moment. Just, "Hey! I thought of you. Just wanted to check-in with you, see how you're doing." But like, mean it! Not like a, "Hey, just checking in text!" and then they share and you're like, "Oh, I wasn't planning on having a conversation."
But like, check-in on each other. Check-in with yourself!
There it is!
Check-in with yourself, too! So...yeah!
I would just want to say to whoever is listening that people care. And people want to hear. People are a lot more willing to listen than you think.
I would actually say, stay hopeful! Because a lot of times with the work that we do, or even if you're not part of this work, it can become so defeating to be constantly hearing about or witnessing stories, right? Or things that are going on in the world, whether it is DV-related, it is TDV-related, or just in general, there are so many different things that are going on. And that sense of feeling overwhelmed and just constantly consuming so much information that can feel really defeating - I think it's really important to really hold on tight to that little light of hope, not only within us, but within other people. If you can't find it within yourself at the moment, there is that little light of hope somewhere around you. You just have to find it. And once you find it, we can hold on to it tight. And that, I believe will ultimately lead us through whatever challenges we all face. Whether it's personally in our lives, or in society as a whole, we just have to keep on holding on to that hope, because that hope, that light, will guide us to where we need to be.
Wise words. Very wise words from all of y'all.
Thank you so much for staying on and doing this and having this conversation! I feel like we should do this more often. I'm like, learning so much from you all, and also just about, like, how you take in the world, and how you take in the work, and how you're passing it on. It's like a really, I don't know...just thank you for doing this!
It is, this is going to be so beneficial for folks to hear and I appreciate all of your time, and your thoughtfulness, and just the work you do. I'm so lucky that I get to hang out with you all and do it. So, thanks!
All Guests 38:01
This episode of "An Ounce of Prevention" was brought to you by the world-changing Education & Prevention team at Women In Distress, a non-profit, certified domestic violence center in beautiful Broward County, Florida.
Special thanks of course to Danielle, our Teen Dating Violence Specialist, and our Prevention Specialists, Nailin and Joan, for their time today and all the work that they do.
Stay in touch for more episodes and perspectives. Until next time, stay well, stay safe, and remember...violence is preventable!
For everyone out there, please know that there is help if you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence, domestic abuse, or an unhealthy relationship.
To talk to someone and get help, contact your local domestic violence hotline. If you're in Broward County, you can contact Women In Distress. Our crisis hotline is (954) 761-1133. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, wherever you are, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).